Former European champions AC Milan and Aston Villa tumbled out of the UEFA Cup on Thursday as the lure of next season’s Champions League riches proved a fatal distraction.
Villa suffered a heavy price for downgrading Europe’s second-tier competition when their second-string team slumped to a last 32 exit in freezing Moscow against CSKA.
Milan, watched by less than 24,000 people at their San Siro home, also went out at the hands of Werder Bremen.
They were joined on the UEFA Cup casualty list by Fiorentina, Tottenham Hotspur and Valencia, but Manchester City and holders Zenit St Petersburg both secured places in the next round.
Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill left the likes of Gareth Barry, Brad Friedel, Emile Heskey, James Milner, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young back in England for the second-leg tie against CSKA Moscow.
The Russians took full advantage to carve out a 2-0 win on the night and a 3-1 aggregate victory to reach the last 16, with Yury Zhirkov and Vagner Love on target.
“It’s not a decision that was taken lightly,” said O’Neill of his team selection, which also included teenage debutants Barry Bannan and Marc Albrighton. “Circumstances forced me into making my decision.”
Peru striker Claudio Pizarro, on loan from Chelsea, scored both goals as Werder Bremen stunned AC Milan by coming back from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 and go through on away goals after the first leg had finished 1-1.
Milan were cruising at halftime through goals from Andrea Pirlo and Pato, but Pizarro’s brace added to the misery for a Milan side who trail city rivals Inter by 11 points in the league.
A Craig Bellamy double in the space of seven second-half minutes ensured Manchester City a 2-1 win over FC Copenhagen for a 4-3 victory on aggregate.
City are the only British side left in the tournament after a second-string Tottenham Hotspur crashed out following a 1-1 draw at home to Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk.
Leading 2-0 from the first leg, Shakhtar only briefly looked in danger of relinquishing control of the tie after Spurs’ Mexican midfielder Giovani dos Santos opened the scoring with a stunning strike, 10 minutes into the second half.
But Fernandinho grabbed a late goal to seal Shakhtar’s place in the last 16.
With tomorrow’s League Cup final meeting with Manchester United looming, Spurs manager Harry Redknapp had made his priorities crystal clear by naming only one member of the side that defeated Hull City on Monday in his starting 11.
“Who am I supposed to play?” asked Redknapp, who gave a debut to 18-year-old Jonathan Obika. “I must be in the wrong game if I’m meant to play a first team three days before the cup final.”
Fiorentina, fourth in Serie A, drew 1-1 at Ajax to exit 2-1 on aggregate, with substitute Leonardo scoring an 88th-minute equalizer after Alberto Gilardino had put the Italians ahead.
Valencia, also hopeful of a Champions League spot next season, were held to a 2-2 draw at home by Dynamo Kiev and went out on away goals.
Sampdoria, struggling to avoid relegation from Serie A, were also big-name casualties when they lost 2-0 to Metalist Kharkiv in Ukraine having also lost the first leg 1-0.
Defending champions Zenit St Petersburg enjoyed a 2-1 win at VfB Stuttgart to seal a 5-2 win on aggregate.
The Russians struck just before halftime when Igor Semshov rifled his shot past diving Stuttgart goalkeeper Jens Lehmann from close range.